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Out of Frame: 'Tetro'

Vincent Gallo (Tetro) and Alden Ehrenreich (Bennie) in Tetro (photo © American Zoetrope)
Any film signed by Francis Ford Coppola is going to get our attention, even though he has not made a good movie since the 1980s. The legendary American filmmaker, who turned 70 this spring, has spoken of embarking on a second directing career, and his latest movie, Tetro, is the first success of this period of his life. It concerns two sons of a domineering father, an egotistical conductor named Carlo Tetrocini (Coppola's marvelous resurrection of Klaus Maria Brandauer), who are close in youth, both run away from home, and find one another again in the gorgeously shot La Boca neighborhood of Buenos Aires (cinematography by Mihai Malaimare, Jr.). Shot primarily in black and white, the movie upends time expectations by placing scenes from the past in remembered color, reminiscent of the much more gimmicky use of color as vivid memory in Rumble Fish. The story often descends into melodrama, wearing its emotions on its sleeve, with smoldering 40s-style film noir closeups to impart the seething anger especially of the two male leads, Vincent Gallo and the relative newcomer, Alden Ehrenreich, standing in for the young Matt Dillon of The Outsiders.

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The movie has resonances in Coppola's own life: his father was principal flutist in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and then the NBC Symphony under Arturo Toscanini. Coppola Sr. later became a conductor, composer, and arranger, of his son's film scores among other things. In an interview, Coppola identifies himself with Bennie, idolizing his older brother, and the closeness of "The Family" in spite of its many deep-seated issues, referred to throughout the film, recalls the themes explored in the Godfather movies. Coppola financed this movie himself, with proceeds from his successful wine business, writing the script and serving as his own lead producer. It has all the benefits of sole creative control -- a single-minded unity of purpose and style -- and many of the pitfalls, as the film is allowed at times to wallow in self-indulgence, going far over the top in emotional terms.

Maribel Verdú (Miranda) and Vincent Gallo (Tetro) in Tetro (photo © American Zoetrope)
But it is a beautiful film to watch, especially thes scenes set among the glaciers of Patagonia, with absorbing performances by all of the actors. Vincent Gallo, as the scruffy older brother who now goes by the nickname Tetro, is a tortured writer seeking solace from his failures in Argentina, and his psychological unraveling is teased apart bit by bit throughout the movie. Alden Ehrenreich is appealing and open-faced as the younger brother who seeks him out and attempts to bring him back to writing. In the supporting role of Tetro's girlfriend, Maribel Verdú -- a dead ringer for the young Talia Shire, Coppola's sister featured in the Godfather movies -- is both maternal and sultry. The minor role of the literary critic, known only by the mysterious pseudonym Alone, is played with icy hauteur by the sunglass-wearing Carmen Maura, who was so magnificent in Volver and Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios. One of the best parts of the film is an arresting and authentically flavored score by Osvaldo Golijov. Regular readers know that Golijov's music has often not succeeded as serious listening to my ears, but as a film composer, especially one asked to evoke the colorful, moody, sensuous sounds of Argentina's streets, he is unsurpassed. An Academy Award nomination will hopefully come his way.

Francis Ford Coppola's Tetro opens today at the E Street Cinema. Another film recently reviewed, Departures, also opens today, at Landmark Bethesda Row.


Todd said...

I have to say that I really thought 'Youth Without Youth' was under-rated and misunderstood. There was a lot going on in that film but I get the point that it wasn't an unqualified success by any means...but then, he's had enough of those. I'm glad he's back in 'The Conversation' mode where he always thought he would be when he started.

Detroit Symphony Orchestra Tickets said...

Nice to read the review...detailed though.I must say having read the review, i just can't wait to watch the movie..!!